- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

President Obama released his national strategy for combating HIV/AIDS on Thursday promising to use federal funds more wisely, but immediately drew criticism from AIDS activists for what they say is a delayed plan lacking significant new funding and falling short of former President George W. Bush’s efforts.

Mr. Obama’s plan, designed to fulfill his campaign promise to come up with a strategy to combat the spread of AIDS nationally, uses $30 million from the new health care law and focuses resources on gay and bisexual men, blacks, Hispanics and drug users - the demographic groups most at risk. Its goal is to curb new infections by 25 percent over the next five years.

About 56,000 people in the U.S. become infected with HIV/AIDS each year.

But the AIDS Healthcare Foundation hit Mr. Obama for what it described as a “laggard approach” on the issue and for not fully backing global AIDS initiatives put in place by Mr. Bush.

“This strategy is a day late and a dollar short: 15 months in the making, and the White House learned what people in the field have known for years. There is no funding, no ‘how to,’ no real leadership,” said Michael Weinstein, the foundation’s president.

But Mr. Weinstein also criticized the White House for not supporting a bill authored by Senate Republicans that would have used $126 million in unspent stimulus dollars to reduce waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

To put pressure on the administration, the Los Angeles-based organization, which describes itself as the nation’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care, is rolling out an ad campaign comparing Mr. Obama with Mr. Bush, asking “Who’s Better on AIDS?”

Paul Zeitz, the head of the Global AIDS Alliance, said in an interview with Voice of America that Mr. Obama has not met campaign promises to boost AIDS spending abroad, particularly in Africa.

The report sets specific goals for prevention and treatment, such as ensuring that 85 percent of those who are infected get access to lifesaving drugs within three months of being diagnosed, and increasing from 79 percent to 90 percent those people living with HIV or AIDS who know they are infected.

The policy acknowledges there is no “magic bullet” to reduce transmission and promotes use of several safeguards, such as abstinence from sexual activity and drug use; HIV testing; condom use; and the use of sterile needles and syringes. It calls for improvements in HIV/AIDS education through social marketing campaigns and also says better coordination is needed among government agencies.

But the plan was met with praise from other HIV/AIDS prevention groups.

“This is an important and long-overdue victory for the HIV/AIDS community that can lead to dramatic progress against HIV/AIDS in the United States - now, the really hard work begins,” said Barbara Kimport, chief executive of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that the nation’s progress in fighting HIV/AIDS abroad has caused citizens to become too sanguine about the risk here at home.

“We can’t afford complacency - not when in the 10 minutes I’ve been talking to you, another American has just contracted HIV,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “That’s why our strategy calls for aggressive efforts to educate Americans about how dangerous this disease still is.”

In developing its strategy, the administration touted the fact it solicited input on its website, held more than a dozen community discussions nationwide and hosted numerous meetings with experts at the White House.

More than 33 million people globally have HIV/AIDS with more than 1 million of those infected living in the United States.

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